Prancing Force
Evo|November 2019
Ferrari’s Pista-powered F8 Tributo is here and ready to take on McLaren’s brilliant 720S. With the latest electronic wizardry on board, does it have the weapons to take on Britain’s finest?
John Barker

THERE COULD BE ONE REASON WHY FERRARI has replaced the 488 GTB after just four years in production, and that reason could be the McLaren 720S, the GTB’s versatile, 700bhp-plus, British rival. It’s more likely, though, that there are a number of reasons. Maybe there’s a hybrid model on the way (aside from the SF90 Stradale) and the 710bhp F8 Tributo is holding the fort until it arrives; it seems an unusual step for Ferrari to make a third car on the same platform in such a short space of time, and this one has its roots in the 458 Italia that launched only a decade ago.

Yet whether it’s knee-jerk or stopgap or was in the plan all along, there’s no question the F8 Tributo is a great looking car – the best off this platform for me. Better than that, the F8 takes the 488 Pista’s 710bhp engine (well, most of it) but not its steely dynamic resolve, adding Ferrari’s latest electronics to make it more deployable and exploitable. Where better to experience this in action than Fiorano? Turns out the answer is actually, unexpectedly, the Tuscan hills. But the track is where we start our test drive.

‘We wanted to combine Pista performance with 488 GTB useability,’ development driver Fabrizio Toschi says as we leave the pit area. To this end the F8 uses GTB springs and anti-roll bars, but has recalibrated adaptive damper control to deliver some of the Pista’s cornering crispness. And to help manage powerslides, there is version 6.1 of Ferrari’s Side Slip Control and a version of the Pista’s Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, dubbed FDE+ in the F8 because it offers support in both Race and CT Off drive modes.

Toschi drives as good a lap as you’d expect of someone who’s spent a few months of his life honing the F8 Tributo’s dynamics around this track. It is fast and precise and controlled and (apparently) allows the car to show how the new electronics help customers deploy 710bhp with fewer steering wheel inputs at the limit, keeping things calmer. Toschi makes it look calm, though the pace is dizzying, verging on uncomfortable if all you’ve done before dropping into the passenger seat is had a leisurely breakfast and wandered around the sun-dappled courtyard of this history steeped test track with a coffee in your hand and a smile on your face. He works the front end hard to get the F8 right into the apex of the corners, extracting every last gritty ounce of grip from the front tyres, then on the exits the tail kicks out easily and I’m not sure whether it’s the systems holding the slides neatly or Toschi.

The standard tyre for the F8 Tributo is a regular Pirelli or Michelin, but for the track element of this launch the F8s are fitted with the Pista’s Michelin Cup 2s. I can’t help feeling that this muddies the waters if you want to show the differences between the Pista and the F8. Adding the Cup 2s brings the Fiorano lap times very close too; Ferrari quotes the 488 GTB at 1:23.0, the Pista on 1:21.5 and the F8 Tributo as 1:22.5 – unless you fit the Cups, which are good for ‘more than half a second a lap,’ says Toschi. So you can get your F8 within half-a-second of the Pista…

My turn. I’ll elect to start in Race, go to CT Off and finish with ESC Off – which disables all assistance apart from antilock – so I can feel what the systems are containing. The car and its tyres are already hot and as I steer the F8 out onto the track, I’m struck by the meaty heft of the steering and, a few corners later, the voice the V8 has.

It’s an obvious thing to say but, boy, this is a quick car. The 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 is pretty much lag-free and despite the Cup 2s has enough torque to oversteer out of any corner at Fiorano (apart from the mild kink on the pit straight). In Race mode there are obvious electronic interventions as you try to put the power down out of the small hairpin, but in most other places there’s enough leeway to have a good twist of opposite lock on without any obvious support.

CT Off mode unlocks a bit more slack and then it’s time for ESC Off. This proves that the fundamental handling balance of the F8 is as good as you’d hope, if not as focused as the Pista’s. In some corners mild understeer precedes oversteer (though the tail will swing nicely if you trail-brake) so that you know what you’re in for if you get hard on the power. I’m comfortable enough to get the tail out through the fastest corner, catch it, and give it some more, which is how I come to leave a Michelin slart on the pristine green, white and red outer rumble strip and clip the middle of three cones standing there. Track limits, eh? Given another lap or two I reckon I could bat the other cones into the grass.

Useful as it is to be able to stretch the engine until the final blue shift lights illuminate, and to get a feel for the F8’s dynamic poise, I come away from the track feeling we’ve not seen the new electronic support working as intended. My other takeaway is that the F8 is no Pista, which is a good thing and should please both owners of the bestriped super-series model and those who’ve got their name down for an F8.

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